Guest Post: Classroom Uses for Astronuts by Jon Sciezska, El Deafo by Cece Bell, Jukebox by Nidhi Chanani, One Dead Spy by Nathan Hale, and Squish: Super Amoeba by Jennifer L. Holm

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One of the assignments during my Spring Children’s Literature course at UCF was creating a mini-teaching guide for the books we read for book clubs. We started with picture books for practice then students created them in their book clubs each week.

Today, I am happy to share the classroom uses and discussion questions found by my UCF Elementary Education students about these graphic novels.

AstroNuts Mission One: The Plant Planet
Author: Jon Scieszka
Illustrator: Steven Weinberg
Published September 10th, 2019 by Chronicle Books

Summary: AstroWolf, LaserShark, SmartHawk, and StinkBug are animal astronauts that were sent on a mission to find a sustainable planet for humans to live on once we’ve ruined Earth. So off they rocket to the Plant Planet in the nose rocket! They must perform experiments to gather all the information needed to know if the planet would be able to sustain humans, Or do Plant Planet’s inhabitants have a different plan in store. This book uses real life science with a fun twist.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be great for teaching all about planet Earth, how to recycle, and how to protect the planet. Also, this book does a great job on putting a fun, zany twist on its characters that make this educational, engaging, and entertaining. These are all great things that students can look forward to when reading this book and are introduced to it, in the classroom.

In terms of interdisciplinary elements, we have discussed that the best subject that the book AstroNuts can be connected to is science. This book can be seen from many different angles when connected to science, but can be more specifically geared towards the knowledge of climate change, protecting one’s planet, and cell information (ex: plant cells).

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why do you think AstroWolf thought that he knew it all?
  • Out of all the characters in AstroNuts (AstroWolf, LaserShark, etc.), which character do you think you could relate to the most? Explain.
  • What could the AstroNuts have done differently in order to not anger the plants, when they first arrived on the planet?
  • Which of the AstroNuts do you feel accomplished their goal for the mission? Why or why not?
  • What aspects of the story do you see in our society when it comes to protecting our planet?
  • How does this book inspire you when it talks about the environment and the ongoing topic of global warming?
  • Which AstroNut do you think contributed the most to their mission? Explain.
  • If you were an official for the NNASA how could you help prepare the AstroNuts for their next mission?
  • If you were to draw Plant Planet, how would it look different from Earth. What types of things would be shown in your illustration? Explain.

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El Deafo
Author: Cece Bell
Published September 2nd, 2014 by Abrams Books

Summary: Starting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.

Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school — in the hallway… in the teacher’s lounge… in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it’s just another way of feeling different… and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most, a true friend?

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: El Deafo teaches students about inclusivity which is something kids sometimes struggle with, and its books like this, that may just do the trick! This novel could also be a great choice as a book club book because it is a real-life story and could very well be a kids favorite. You can challenge your students, and have them create a piece of writing or art work that is inspired by this story, to show understanding. It’s great to have different books about kids with certain challenges, so other students can read and understand them better and see that they are not so different from other students, which is why it is encouraged that you to add this to your classroom library if it isn’t there already!

Discussion Questions: 

  • Based off of the cover of the book, what predictions do you have for the book?
  • Why did Cece dislike the way Ginny spoke to her?
  • How did Martha treat Cece when they first met?
  • Do you think that Mike Miller was a good influence?
  • Do you think that Cece missed out on a new opportunity to learn something new because she went into sign language school with a negative attitude?
  • What would you have done if you were in Ceces’ shoes when the teacher slipped out of the classroom and your friends wanted you to listen for her?
  • Why do you think the illustrator chose bunnies to be the characters?
  • Based off of the cover of the book, what predictions do you have for the book?
  • In what ways can you relate to Cece?
  • Cece thought about herself as a superhero? What do you think makes a person a superhero?
  • Why did Cece dislike the way Ginny spoke to her?
  • How did Martha treat Cece when they first met?
  • Do you think that Mike Miller was a good influence?
  • Do you think that Cece missed out on a new opportunity to learn something new because she went into sign language school with a negative attitude?
  • What would you have done if you were in Ceces’ shoes when the teacher slipped out of the classroom and your friends wanted you to listen for her?
  • Why do you think the illustrator chose bunnies to be the characters?
  • How did the illustration help you understand what is going on in the story?

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Jukebox
Author: Nidhi Chanani
Published June 22nd, 2021 by First Second

Summary: When her dad goes missing, Shahi and her cousin Naz discover a magical time traveling Jukebox and are transported throughout history. Traveling through time, Shahi and Naz race to find Gio and uncover the truth behind the Jukebox.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book is educational because it goes over important social issues and it has an engaging story line that will catch the reader’s attention.

Literature logs would allow students to make connections and critically think while they read the novel. The students can then revisit their notes before coming together for class discussions. Free writes allow students to get their real impressions of the book out. They are asked to write freely about the novel for a given amount of time. The absence of a prompt gives the students the chance to explore the aspects of the novel that stood out to them the most.

This book’s interdisciplinary concepts contain history, music and sexuality. Each record that plays brings you back to an event in history without giving too much information, this may lead readers to want to learn more about what was happening at different points of musical history and history in general. Along with this, there was mention of sexuality and the acceptance of it in their family. This can show the reader that it is okay to have a sexuality that isn’t heterosexuality.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Describe the relationship Shahi has with her parents and with Naz.
  • What clues does the illustrator use to let the reader know what time period they are in?
  • Why do you think Gio and Earl prefer to listen to music on records?
  • Are you familiar with any of the music artists talked about in the book? If so, who and how did you learn about them? If not, who do you think would listen to and why?
  • Do you think the store owner (Earl) was a bit selfish, if so, why do you think that?
  • How does music influence your life?
  • Do you think music and history go hand in hand to shape our communities today?
  • Which historic time travel trip stood out to you the most and why?
  • Describe one event in the book that stood out to you the most. Give your reasoning.
  • Did you think that Shahi and Naz were ever going to find their father/ uncle? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think the Jukebox was so important to Gio and Earl?
  • Describe one time in history that was mentioned in the book that you would like to go back to.

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One Dead Spy
Author: Nathan Hale
Published August 1st, 2012 by Abrams Books

Summary: Nathan Hale is the first ever American spy during the Revolutionary War, who is to be hung by the British.  Before the approval of the hanging a giant history book picks him up to go through the past events through Nathans’ point of view which made him a spy during the Revolutionary War, and what the future of the war will be.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The book can be used with history and also when learning the time period the book is a good reference as far as word choice and vocabulary. It gives a good reference as far as seeing into the reality of the time period. It has great comedic relief and can be used to be an ice breaker when dealing with difficult things such as history, especially with our ELLs because it incorporates pictures and texts will allow them to make connections when reading and following along with pictures as well.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How does this book compare to the textbook as far as history? Does this text provide more of a reference or as pleasant reading?
  • Knowing now that the main character is in reference to a real time activity, how does this change the pace and voice of the book?
  • What connections can we make from the graphic novel to the text as we are reading the text?
  • What can we infer from the textbook to foreshadow to happen in the graphic novel?
  • Why couldn’t the British soldier hang Nathan at the beginning of the graphic novel?
  • What were Nathan Hale’s famous last words?
  • What other history figures are present in the book?
  • How did Henry Knox get the cannons to General Wasington?
  • What was the first American victory of the war? And who won it?
  • How does the setting and the time period give more background knowledge as a reader? Does it help you for see the ending of the book?

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Squish: Super Amoeba
Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Illustrator: Matthew Holm
Published May 10th, 2011 by Random House

Summary: A student named Squish (who loves Science) encounters school life with his friends Peggy and Pod. In the midst of his everyday shenanigans, Squish discovers the meaning of right and wrong when faced with unexpected occurrences at his school. Looking up to his favorite role model, “Super Amoeba”, Squish is determined to become his own superhero, save his friend Peggy from the school bully, and fight against the difficulties that come his way!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: When it comes to interdisciplinary elements in this book, we have found that the closest subject that could be connected to Squish is science. Some ways in which you could connect the book to science is by conducting a couple of experiments where students can find amoebas, or other microorganisms,  under a microscope. Amoebas can be found in water puddles and lakes, and most of these places are nearby a school, which can be a great field day for students as well.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What event(s) in the book do you think shows poor/unfriendly behavior? Why?
  • What is a Planaria? Why did the authors make the principal of Squish’s school a Planaria?
  • If you were a friend of Squish, what advice would you give him when confronting the bully in the story? Would you not give him advice? Why or why not?
  • What types of connections could you make with Squish’s character, and his emotions at the end of the story? Explain.
  • Why do you think Mr. Rotifer didn’t ask more questions on why Squish helped Lynwood?
  • Is Pod a good friend in your opinion? Why or why not?
  • What animal would you want to eat the bully in the story? Explain.
  • Would you help the bully cheat to protect your friend?
  • What are some ways that Squish could have handled his bullying situation?Why or why not?

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Guest Post: Classroom Uses for Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott, Magnificent Makers: How to Test a Friendship by Theanne Griffith, Polly Diamond and the Magic Book by Alice Kuipers, and Sisters of the Neversea by Cynthia Leitich Smith

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One of the assignments during my Spring Children’s Literature course at UCF was creating a mini-teaching guide for the books we read for book clubs. We started with picture books for practice then students created them in their book clubs each week. The course was structured by genre as were the book clubs.

Today, I am happy to share the classroom uses and discussion questions found by my UCF Elementary Education students about fantasy novels.

Dragons in a Bag
Author: Zetta Elliott
Published October 23rd, 2018 by Random House

Summary: Jax is left by his mom to an old lady by the name of Ma. Jax later finds out that Ma is a witch who has 3 dragon eggs that hatched. They need to return the eggs because they won’t survive in the regular world due to lack of magic. They go to portals through time that takes them to the time of dinosaurs. Along the way, Jax meets his grandfather who also knows magic, and has him return two of the dragons to the magic council but accidentally left one left behind so he returns to the regular world. He forces his mom and the witch to hash out their problems.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: When using fantasy in the classroom it is always a good way to spark your students’ creativity. This source could be used as a creative writing prompt to boost off their creativity of the story: Conduct an activity based upon the book like have them write a short story about what they would do if they were in Jax’s shoes and have them draw pictures of dragons, name them, and design the dragons how they would like them to be pictured.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What was Jax’s first impression of Ma?
  • How do you think Jax will return the last dragon to the magic council?
  • Who do agree with and why? Ma who wants to keep the world of magic separate or L. Roy who wants magic to come back to earth.
  • Why do you think Jax decided to open the window for the squirrel?
  • What were 2 things the dragons were not allowed to have?
  • When you first hear the word apprentice what comes to mind?  Did you have the same thinking as Jax?
  • How does the story tie in with real-life scenarios with the fantasy?
  • Who are the most influential character apart from Jax?
  • When do we see the change of events come in play throughout the story?
  • When reading the book your imagination goes wild,in what other circumstances does your mind go other places when reading this story?

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The Magnificent Makers: How to Test Friendship
Author: Theanne Griffith
Illustrator: Reggie Brown
Published May 19th, 2020 by Random House Children’s Books

Summary: Pablo, Violet and Deepak are three friends who get sucked into a telescope and must play science games to come back and play again. Deepak is the new kid who makes Pablo jealous with his presence. Throughout the book, the team works together and build their friendship to complete the games.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The book could be used as a classroom read-aloud over the course of a few days or a week.  Due to the science elements, this book would be a good way to start off science discussions in the classroom. For example, the second chapter includes the students learning about food chains. This book is perfect to make connections back to science.

Discussion Questions: 

  •   Why do you think Pablo was jealous of Deepak?
  •   What were some of the challenges they had and what did they have to do?
  •   Why do you think Pablo, Violet, and Deepak were chosen for the Maker’s Maze?
  •    What do you know about producers, consumers, decomposers, and scavengers?
  • What were your favorite aspects of science that you learned from the book?
  • What type of emotion did the characters experience in the book?
  • When Deepak arrived to class, what did Pablo notice about him?
  • How does Pablo overcome is jealous toward Deepak?
  • Toward the end of the book why did they relate their friendship to the ecosystems?

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Polly Diamond and the Magic Book
Author: Alice Kuipers
Illustrator: Diana Toledano
Published April 22nd, 2018 by Chronicle Books

Summary: Polly Diamond is a little girl who receives a magic book that lets her bring to life the things that she writes and draws. She has a little sister who she doesn’t like very much and a brother on the way. Polly loves to write, she writes lists and stories and anything that she thinks is worth writing. When she starts writing in her magic book she realizes that the book can talk back to her. She writes to her book and comes up with lists and stories to write. She realizes that whatever she writes in the book comes to life when she writes about making a ladder to paint her room and the books on the floor magically move to make a ladder. The book tells her that is what she’s for and Polly quickly learns she can do anything she writes. She makes herself invisible and her sister into a banana. But she realizes that the book is taking everything she says literally. When she writes about eating a club sandwich the book gives her two slices of bread with a bat in between because it took the definition of a club literally. She told the house to fix up the carpet and turn her room into an aquarium. But the carpet was on the ceiling and fish were swimming around her room. She then realizes that everything she wrote was crazy and tries to put the house back to normal because she can’t even recognize it anymore. She fixes it just in time for her parents to come home with her new baby brother. At the end of the story she gives the book a name, Spell. And looks forward to writing and drawing another day with her new book, and friend Spell.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Polly uses and explains words like metaphor, affixes, alliteration, and hyperbole.  This is a great opportunity to talk about these definitions, make lists of words and phrases that relate to these words, and do activities where the students use metaphors, alliteration, homophones, homonyms etc.  It seems like a useful book to have in a first grade classroom and use with a higher level reading small group or a second grade class.    It could also be used as a read aloud, again discussing the key words and their meanings, then practicing using those skills.  There is a lot of use of imagery in this book as well as understanding literal meaning and how words matter.

After reading the text, students can respond to the story by engaging in a free write activity after they finish the reading. As a teacher, we could set a timer for five minutes and ask the students to write continuously about their thoughts on the book, good or bad, and afterwards, go over it as a small group.

Discussion Questions:

  • Polly had many favorite words throughout the book, what are some of your favorite words and why?
  • Make a list of activities you would do to have a Super-Fantastic-Day.
  • In the book, Polly writes down what her dream bedroom would look like. If you could have your dream bedroom, what would it look like?
  • When Polly writes in the magic book, she learns that she needs to write clearly and use as much detail as possible. What are some important rules to follow when writing so people can understand your message clearly?
  • When Polly is playing hide-and-seek, why does she become invisible?
  • Imagine the turquoise notebook has changed your house like Polly’s. Please write a short story explaining what your home looks like in order to get it back to normal.
  • How does Polly feel having to share a room with her little sister when her brother is born?
  • If you had a magic notebook that could bring three things you wrote about to life, what 3 things would you write or draw and why?
  • Polly loves words with double letters like “Dizzy.” List 5 words you can think of that have double letters.
  • Polly loves alliteration.  That’s when  two or more words in a row begin with the same letter.  What alliterations can you think of?

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Sisters of the Neversea
Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith
Published June 1st, 2021 by Heartdrum

Summary: This book is a tale about three children, Lily, Wendy, and Michael. Their parents, Mr. Darling and Ms. Florene Roberts-Darling are separating, splitting the family between two different locations.  The night before Wendy and Mr. Darling are supposed to leave, the children are visited by a boy named Peter Pan and Belle. Stories of pirates and merfolk persuade the children to follow Peter Pan and Belle off to a mystical land called Neverland.  Upon arriving the children are separated and discover once you arrive you can never leave.  The children meet merfolk, pirates, native children, the lost, and fairies in a desperate attempt to figure out how to get home.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book will be great for a read aloud, book club, or close reading because it involves a lot of higher level vocabulary than some students may currently be reading at and it has long sentences and dialogue which again, some children could struggle with. These classroom uses would allow for discussions.

Geography could also be tied in because students could illustrate and demonstrate caves and waterways the Merfolk might have dwelled in. They also could show their knowledge of what an island like Neverland might have, and include what trees they think the lost boys were living in.

And, of course, it could be looked at versus Peter Pan as it is a retelling.

Discussion Questions: 

  • If you were a character in this book, who would you be and why?
  • If you were to create a different ending, How would it go?
  • Why do you think Mr. Darling and Ms. Florene wanted to separate?
  • What was your favorite part of the book?
  • What were some challenges that the children had to face or overcome?
  • Why do you think Peter Pan and Belle appeared?
  • Why do you think it was hard for the lost boys to remember who they are?
  • Why do you think Peter Pan never wanted to grow up?
  • Why do you think Belle brought Peter Pan to the island?
  • Why do you think the crocodile made a TikTok sound?
  • Does this book remind you of any other children’s stories?  If so why?

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Guest Post: Classroom Uses for Concealed by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, Last Gate of the Emperor by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel David Makonnen, Maya and the Robot by Eve Ewing, and The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles

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One of the assignments during my Spring Children’s Literature course at UCF was creating a mini-teaching guide for the books we read for book clubs. We started with picture books for practice then students created them in their book clubs each week. The course was structured by genre as were the book clubs as were the book clubs.

Today, I am happy to share the classroom uses and discussion questions found by my UCF Elementary Education students about science fiction novels.

Concealed
Author: Christina Diaz Gonzalez
Published October 19th, 2021 by Scholastic

Summary: Ivette, Joanna, and now: Katrina

Whatever her name is, it won’t last long. Katrina doesn’t know any of the details about her past, but she does know that she and her parents are part of the Witness Protection Program. Whenever her parents say they have to move on and start over, she takes on a new identity. A new name, new hair color, new story.

Until their location leaks and her parents disappear. Katrina embarks on a dangerous rescue mission to save them-and find out the truth of her past at last.

Yet every new discovery shows that the Katrina’s entire life has been nothing but lies. Katrina has always kept her parents’ secrets. But it turns out, they were the ones keeping secrets from her this whole time. Could she be the reason they’ve been hiding all these years? The truth will throw everything Katrina has ever believed about herself into question.

Concealed is an action-packed adventure story by award-winning author Christina Diaz Gonzalez.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This is a great relatable book for young adults! Throughout the story, Katrina, the main character, fights for more information about herself and her family and why they are on the run, but she often gets overlooked and ignored when she’s asks questions. A lot of teens experience this and I think it would be a great book for a book club or even an assigned read for the class to explore sci-fi and have good discussions.

This books interdisciplinary elements include science and family and friendship values. It touches on the development of science in the DNA and gene makeup, which students may be unaware of at the time of reading which may lead them to explore more on their own. The family and friendship values show that no matter what a family goes through there is still love there. Along with this it shows the importance of friendship and everything that goes along with having a good friend by your side, even when at first you don’t think it is important.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What would you do if you were Katrina and no one would answer your questions?
  • Would you have wanted to go with Katrina on this adventure? Why or why not?
  • Katrina’s skill is drawing and Parker’s skill is computers, describe what your skill is.
  • Describe how you would feel if you found out that you had a lost twin sister/brother.
  • What did you think of X in the story? Did you think he was a good character or a bad character? Why?
  • What would be your name if you had to choose another one?
  • Describe the relationship between Katrina and Parker.
  • Describe one event in the book that stood out to you the most and give your reasoning.
  • Why do you think Katrina didn’t like moving so much? How would you have felt if you were in her shoes?
  • Why do you think the main character’s family has to run and change their identity so many times?
  • Do you think it would be safer for Katrina to leave Parker out of her life? Why or why not?
  • Describe the relationship Katrina has with her parents as the book goes along. What about Parker? X?
  • Why do you think Katrina was so open with Parker, even at the beginning of their friendship?
  • Do you believe X is trustworthy? Why or why not?
  • Why do you believe B and L refuse to tell Katrina the truth about what happened before she lost her memory?
  • Do you think Ellla will side with her family or Mr. Sterling?
  • Describe what part of the book surprised you the most.
  • Do you think it is a good idea for Ellla and Katrina to share their life story on social media? Why or why not?

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The Last Gate of the Emperor
Authors: Kwame Mbalia & Prince Joel Makonnen
Published May 4th, 2021 by Scholastic Press

Summary: An Afrofuturist adventure about a mythical Ethiopian empire. Sci-fi and fantasy combine in this journey to the stars.

Yared Heywat lives an isolated life in Addis Prime — a hardscrabble city with rundown tech, lots of rules, and not much to do. His worrywart Uncle Moti and bionic lioness Besa are his only family… and his only friends.

Often in trouble for his thrill-seeking antics and smart mouth, those same qualities make Yared a star player of the underground augmented reality game, The Hunt for Kaleb’s Obelisk. But when a change in the game rules prompts Yared to log in with his real name, it triggers an attack that rocks the city. In the chaos, Uncle Moti disappears.

Suddenly, all the stories Yared’s uncle told him as a young boy are coming to life, of kingdoms in the sky and city-razing monsters. And somehow Yared is at the center of them.

Together with Besa and the Ibis — a game rival turned reluctant ally — Yared must search for his uncle… and answers to his place in a forgotten, galaxy-spanning war.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: In a way, students can learn about culture in this book. From there, diversity can be introduced into the lesson. Also, it would be great for discussing using your own personal interests and culture in your writing. The story also intertwines Ethiopian history and culture with space adventure and science fiction. This will be entertaining for the students while also educational. Another thing that can be taught while reading this book is that you will have to face the consequences of your own actions. If you are going to do something that you know is wrong, something bad will happen afterwards.

Students could also make timeline of events which would be interesting to see Yared’s adventure and battles laid out.

This novel would be considered interdisciplinary because it intertwines history with science fiction. It also introduces the idea of secret underground games, space & robots, as well as intergalactic war. These topics are mostly seen in movies but the main plot line is finding the uncle who would have the answers. It shows the students that even in stressful situations, never giving up and determination in hard times shows better outcomes.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Think about what makes up you. What aspects of yourself would you reflect in your stories?
  • Compare a time when Yared was brave to one where he was scared? How did he overcome his fear?
  • Describe a time Yared had to ask for help?
  • What futuristic items in the book do you wish we had now? Why?
  • Describe the relationship between Yared and his uncle.
  • Predict what you think Yared will do in the next book.
  • How would you characterize Besa? How does the author convey her feelings without talking?
  • Why do you think the story starts with an audio transcript? Did it grab your attention or confuse you?
  • How do you feel about the rules on Addis Prime? Would you want to follow them?
  • Does this novel remind you of any movies or maybe other literature you have read?
  • How would you feel if you were in the same situation as Yared?
  • Do you think Yared has good qualities or does he often find himself in trouble because of them?
  • What other Ethiopian stories have we read in class before? Do you find similarities in the novels?
  • Do you think the illustrations on the cover with Yared and the robots in space gave you a good summary of what the book might be about?
  • What inferences can you make by looking at the cover of the book?
  • How and why did the setting change?
  • What key words from the novel stood out to you the most and why?
  • If the authors were to write another novel using Yared and Besa, what do you think it would be about?

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Maya and the Robot
Author: Eve Ewing
Illustrator: Christine Almeda
Published July 13th, 2021 by Kokila

Summary: An illustrated middle grade novel about a forgotten homemade robot who comes to life just when aspiring fifth-grade scientist Maya needs a friend—and a science fair project.

Maya’s nervous about fifth grade. She tries to keep calm by reminding herself she knows what to expect. But then she learns that this year won’t be anything like the last. For the first time since kindergarten, her best friends Jada and MJ are placed in a different class without her, and introverted Maya has trouble making new friends.

She tries to put on a brave face since they are in fifth grade now, but Maya is nervous! Just when too much seems to be changing, she finds a robot named Ralph in the back of Mr. Mac’s convenience store closet. Once she uses her science skills to get him up and running, a whole new world of connection opens up as Ralph becomes a member of her family and Maya begins to step into her power.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be useful in the classroom in order to get children interested in STEM:

Students could learn more about robotics and electrical elements. Following along with Maya as they learn students are introduced to new ideas and definitions that will bridge their understanding of STEM.

Students will be able to create their own science fair projects. Students can present their own ideas and also learn about how projects in the book worked

Discussion Questions: 

  • Do you think that her finding the robot impacted her in a good or bad way? Why?
  • What piece of modern technology does Ralph remind us of?
  • What modern upgrade would you give Ralph?
  • What is something in your life that you would consider your Ralph?
  • Who can relate to Maya? Explain why?
  • Throughout Maya and the Robot there are many different lessons you can take away. What lessons can you take away from the book and why?
  • How did Ralph allow Mr. Mac to heal after Christopher’s death?
  • Throughout the book Maya often feels alone in the classroom. What is one way to make your classmates feel included?
  • Could Maya have fixed her relationship with MJ and Jada earlier in the book? Why or why not?
  • Throughout the book Maya’s teacher calls her by the incorrect name. Why is it important to stand up for yourself when you feel uncomfortable?

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The Last Last-Day-of-Summer
Author: Lamar Giles
Illustrator: Dapo Adeola
Published April 2nd, 2019 by Versify

Summary: When two adventurous cousins accidentally extend the last day of summer by freezing time, they find the secrets hidden between the unmoving seconds, minutes, and hours are not the endless fun they expected.

Otto and Sheed are the local sleuths in their zany Virginia town, masters of unraveling mischief using their unmatched powers of deduction. And as the summer winds down and the first day of school looms, the boys are craving just a little bit more time for fun, even as they bicker over what kind of fun they want to have. That is, until a mysterious man appears with a camera that literally freezes time. Now, with the help of some very strange people and even stranger creatures, Otto and Sheed will have to put aside their differences to save their town—and each other—before time stops for good.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Using this book in the classroom could help students become more brave or confident. Majority of the students should be able to relate to this story because it is almost like a dream come true. This book could open up a lot of “What if” questions for students and I love it. Students will be able to use their imaginations, better their reading skills, and have fun at the same time.

This story would also be a fun story to read together as a class and it is a fun novel to get students eager to read!

Once students are done reading this book, there could be a class reflection on how we can all be brave heroes in real life in our homes and at school. To make this even more exciting students can create their own super hero crest and name. Students will practice helping others and I will make sure their parents know about this assignment to help the students with understanding that we help each other all of the time not just at school, but to practice it everywhere if applicable and not dangerous.

Students can also respond by writing their own fictional story about their own adventures on the last day of summer.

Discussion Questions: 

  • In the novel the acronym BTSFOASTF is written by Grandma. What does it mean?
  • With a partner, come up with an answer together and write it on the white board. Grandma is diabetic, What medicine did she take and what is it for?
  • When Otto and Sheed took the picture, what happened?
  • Why did Sheed decide not to tear up the picture?
  • What was the one thing Otto discovered had been consistent since time had been frozen, and in which chapter was this discovered? Would you have noticed the same thing? Why?
  • For how long did Otto and Sheed’s adventure last, and why do you think so?
  • How do you unfreeze a person in the story?
  • Why did TimeStar lie?
  • Who is TimeStar and why do you think so?
  • What role did the clock watchers play in this story?
  • How are Otto and Sheed alike? Different?
  • How do Otto and Sheed work together and overcome their differences?
  • What were some clues that you noticed when reading, that something was not right after the boys took the photo?
  • Describe the boys relationship with their grandmother
  • If you could time travel, would you rather go forward in time or backward in time?
  • What was your favorite part about Sheed and Otto’s day?
  • Are you surprised by who Mr. Flux is?
  • Is this how you would want to spend your last day of summer?

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Guest Post: Classroom Uses for Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell; Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o; The Crown by Derrick Barnes; The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson; Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds; and You Matter by Christian Robinson

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One of the assignments during my Spring Children’s Literature course at UCF was creating a mini-teaching guide for the books we read for book clubs. We started with picture books for practice then students created them in their book clubs each week.

Today, I am happy to share the classroom uses and discussion questions found by my UCF Elementary Education students for these six picture books.

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon
Author: Patty Lovell
Illustrator: David Catrow
Published August 27th, 2001 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

Summary: Molly Lou Melon is short, clumsy, has buck teeth, and a voice that sounds like a bull-frog being squeezed by a boa constrictor… But she doesn’t mind.

Her grandmother has always told her to walk proud, smile big, and sing loud, and she takes that to heart.

But then Molly Lou has to start in a new school. A horrible bully picks on her on the very first day, but Molly Lou Melon knows just what to do about that…

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation:

  • This book can be used to set a president within the classroom to advise at the beginning of the year that bullying is not okay.
  • Teach about how having a positive attitude can affect the world around you
    • Our attitude towards life determines life’s attitude towards us. – John Mitchell
  • Have the students go into a small group to talk about what happens when another student is being bullied.
    • Writing-in-role: Each student can discuss what they would do in Molly’s shoes with each encounter with the bully.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How would you feel if you were in Molly’s situation?
  • What advice has a family member given you that has gotten you through a tough time?
  • What are some things that you like about yourself?
  • How do you think Molly was able to keep a positive attitude?
  • How did the illustrations make you feel?
  • What did you like about the story?
  • What are some things you would have done if you heard Ronald making fun of Molly?
  • If Molly had a negative attitude toward Ronald, how would have had the story turned out differently?
  • How can you use this story in our classroom?
  • If Molly had not received advice from her grandmother do you think she would have had such a positive attitude?

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Sulwe
Author: Lupita Nyong’o
Illustrator: Vashti Harrison
Published October 15th, 2019 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: Sulwe has skin the color of midnight. She is darker than everyone in her family. She is darker than anyone in her school. Sulwe just wants to be beautiful and bright, like her mother and sister. Then a magical journey in the night sky opens her eyes and changes everything.

In this stunning debut picture book, actress Lupita Nyong’o creates a whimsical and heartwarming story to inspire children to see their own unique beauty.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: T

  • Good as a read-aloud and book club book.
  • A good book to introduce a discussion about skin color.
  • Beginning BLM topic.
  • Encourages children to be comfortable in their own skin.
  • Encourages children to love themselves.
  • Modern-day text.
  • May be used during social studies instruction. Prompts discussion about skin color and different cultures. Introduces self and encourages students to reflect on their own family and community.
  • After reading activity: Students may respond to the text by drawing a self-portrait of themselves. After drawing a self-portrait of themselves, they can share it with their peers and reflect on their own similarities and differences. The activity encourages students to recognize the importance of each member of their community.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What ideas do you think will be present in this text?
  • How did the author use the title of this book in the text?
  • How do you think the story will end?
  • How do you think Sulwe feels regarding how her classmates are treating her? How do you feel about this treatment?
  • What use of imagery sparked your imagination?
  • What could happen to make this character feel a different way?
  • What type of emotions do you feel during the daytime versus the nighttime? Explain why?
  • How does the word choice contribute to the tension throughout the story and ultimately the theme at the end?
  • What do you think the author wanted you to feel after reading this book?
  • How do Sulwe’s feelings change from the beginning to the middle, to the end of the story?
  • What evidence of organization do you see throughout the story?

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The Crown
Author: Derrick Barnes
Illustrator: Gordon C. James
Published October 10th, 2017 by Agate Bolden

Summary: The barbershop is where the magic happens. Boys go in as lumps of clay and, with princely robes draped around their shoulders, a dab of cool shaving cream on their foreheads, and a slow, steady cut, they become royalty. That crisp yet subtle line makes boys sharper, more visible, more aware of every great thing that could happen to them when they look good: lesser grades turn into As; girls take notice; even a mother’s hug gets a little tighter. Everyone notices.

A fresh cut makes boys fly.

This rhythmic, read-aloud title is a celebration of the way boys feel when they leave the barber’s chair.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Notes about when the book would be useful in the classroom:

  • To show feelings towards a certain moment in life.
  • This can be used for language arts practice (events, plot, meaning).
  • Asking students about a time where they felt a personal experience with something that they do often.
  • Reflect on how they feel after receiving a haircut.
  • Reflect on something that excites you, like the haircut in the story.

This book is best done as a read aloud and a book club book. The reason for this, is that Crown integrates great opportunities because it helps students to understand a character’s feelings written into text.

Discussion Questions: 

  • The boy in the story talks about his passion of having a haircut. When has there been a time where you felt passionate about something?
  • How does the author in the story convey emotion through colors?
  • What did you think the story might have been about?
  • What do you think that the boy in the story is feeling when he enters the barber shop?
  • If you could write a sequel to this book, what would it be about and why?
  • What have you might have changed in this story?
  • Has there been a time where you think you have gotten a nice haircut? Why or why not?
  • Describe the boy’s feelings about getting a haircut? Why do you think this?
  • The boy in the story felt confident and positive after getting a haircut. When was there a time where you felt confident and positive about something?

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The Day You Begin
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrator: Rafael López
Published August 28th, 2018 by Nancy Paulsen Books

Summary: National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson and two-time Pura Belpre Illustrator Award winner Rafael Lopez have teamed up to create a poignant, yet heartening book about finding courage to connect, even when you feel scared and alone.

There will be times when you walk into a room
and no one there is quite like you.

There are many reasons to feel different. Maybe it’s how you look or talk, or where you’re from; maybe it’s what you eat, or something just as random. It’s not easy to take those first steps into a place where nobody really knows you yet, but somehow you do it.

Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical text and Rafael Lopez’s dazzling art reminds us that we all feel like outsiders sometimes-and how brave it is that we go forth anyway. And that sometimes, when we reach out and begin to share our stories, others will be happy to meet us halfway.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: After reading this book it would be best if students use this as a community building opportunity to celebrate their differences and learn about their peers. This book opens up a discussion about the lives that others live and how although they have a different background we should treat everyone with respect and encourage others to be true to themselves. After reading this book the classroom can do a reading analysis of the book to help establish classroom norms and expectations. This book would be best as a read aloud preferably towards the beginning of the school year. Afterwards this book may go to the classroom library. This book is interdisciplinary as it can be used in social studies to help explore different cultural backgrounds. The students can be given the opportunity to explore the different customs and regions brought up in the book to gain a deeper understanding of the world around them.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What is the symbolism behind rulers being present in the illustrations of the book?
  • What differences did you notice in each of the characters?
  • Why do you think it is important for us to celebrate our differences?
  • What differences do you notice within your classmates or others around you?
  • How did the students’ perceptions of each other change over time?
  • Describe something that makes you unique compared to your classmates
  • What is one way to support a classmate that feels isolated because of their differences?
  • Why do you think Angelina felt less nervous towards the end of the book?
  • What is the overall message of the story?
  • Why do we notice the differences of our peers?
  • Why are we different from those around us?
  • Pick two different interactions in the story and write about you would change the characters behavior to be more respectful of their peers

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Word Collector
Author & Illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds
Published January 30th, 2018 by Orchard Books

Summary: Some people collect stamps.
Some people collect coins.
Some people collect art.
And Jerome?
Jerome collected words . . .

In this extraordinary new tale from Peter H. Reynolds, Jerome discovers the magic of the words all around him—short and sweet words, two-syllable treats, and multisyllable words that sound like little songs. Words that connect, transform, and empower.

From the creator of The Dot and Happy Dreamer comes a celebration of finding your own words—and the impact you can have when you share them with the world.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation:

  • This book would be useful during a read aloud when teaching about vocabulary. You can use the book as a good jump start into vocabulary. Seeing another child interested in learning words will catch the students attention and make them more interactive while learning vocab.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What are some words that you would like to share?
  • Is there anything you wished for your class to learn like the main character did?
  • Did you learn any new words?
  • Why does Jerome like to collect words?
  • Where do you find new words not counting in a book?
  • Which types of words were the most powerful for Jerome?
  • What do you like to collect for yourself and why?
  • Why do you think Jerome threw his words across town?
  • What do you do to make yourself happy?
  • What was your favorite part about the book?

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You Matter
Author & Illustrator: Christian Robinson
Published June 2nd, 2020 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Summary: They All Saw a Cat meets The Important Book in this sensitive and impactful picture book about seeing the world from different points of view by Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Honoree Christian Robinson.

In this full, bright, and beautiful picture book, many different perspectives around the world are deftly and empathetically explored—from a pair of bird-watchers to the pigeons they’re feeding. Young readers will be drawn into the luminous illustrations inviting them to engage with the world in a new way and see how everyone is connected, and that everyone matters.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The response best for after reading this text would be a group discussion of their thoughts on the book, a compare and contrast of everyone’s differences that “matter,” reflect on things that students think matters to them, and think they want to not matter. And the the book is interdisciplinary due to its multiple subject related ideas, because it addresses science related topics like planets and plants, and even geography.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Is there something that one of your siblings does that you don’t like? Why? Does that mean that they don’t matter?
  • What is something that you think matters?
  • What is something that you think makes you different?
  • Why does that make you special?
  • Why are differences important?
  • Why do you think the last picture was of the whole city?
  • Who is the astronaut thinking about when she is looking down on earth?
  • On the cover, what do you notice about all the children playing, what happens if there is only one kid playing with the parachute?
  • Why do you think the author wrote this book?
  • Why do you matter?

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Guest Post: Classroom Uses for Ambitious Girl by Meena Harris, Bunheads by Misty Copeland, I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott, I’m Worried by Michael Ian Black, and Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast by Josh Funk

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One of the assignments during my Spring Children’s Literature course at UCF was creating a mini-teaching guide for the books we read for book clubs. We started with picture books for practice then students created them in their book clubs each week. 

Today, I am happy to share the classroom uses and discussion questions found by my UCF Elementary Education students for these five picture books.

Ambitious Girl
Author: Meena Harris
Illustrator: Marissa Valdez
Published January 19th, 2021 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Summary: Anyone who’s ever been underestimated or overshadowed will find inspiration in this empowering new picture book from Meena Harris, New York Times-bestselling author of Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea.

When a young girl sees a strong woman on TV labeled as “too assertive” and “too ambitious,” it sends her on a journey of discovery through past, present, and future about the challenges faced by women and girls and the ways in which they can reframe, redefine, and reclaim words meant to knock them down.

As Ambitious Girl says:

No “too that” or “too this”
will stop what’s inside us from flowering.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be most useful as a classroom read-aloud. You could possibly use this book during Women’s History Month (or on the national day), Black History Month, at the beginning of the school year, or even randomly if you notice certain issues like those in the book present in the classroom.

This book is interdisciplinary due to the fact it can be used to demonstrate social skills, vocabulary, confidence, and social studies such as Women’s Rights and the history of how women were allowed to speak.

Discussion Questions: 

  • What words could you use to describe yourself?
  • If you were the main character in this book, what would people say that you’re too much of?
  • Was there a time when you felt you were being ambitious?
  • What do you want to be when you grow up?
  • What was the main idea of this story?
  • Who do you look up to that makes you feel
  • When are you the most confident?
  • What do you think the woman on the T.V screen was giving a speech about?
  • What was your favorite part of the book?
  • Why is it important to be who you are?

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Bunheads
Author: Misty Copeland
Illustrator: Setor Fiadzibgey
Published September 29th, 2020 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Summary: The story of a young Misty, who discovers her love of dance through the ballet Coppélia–a story about a toymaker who devises a villainous plan to bring a doll to life.

Misty is so captivated by the tale and its heroine, Swanilda, she decides to audition for the role. But she’s never danced ballet before; in fact, this is the very first day of her very first dance class!

Though Misty is excited, she’s also nervous. But as she learns from her fellow bunheads; she makes wonderful friends who encourage her to do her very best. Misty’s nerves quickly fall away, and with a little teamwork, the bunheads put on a show to remember.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: A great response that students could do after reading the text is a consensus board.  A consensus board is when a large board is divided into different sections with a circle in the center.  The circle contains the book’s title or key theme.  In the individual sections, each person writes or sketches personal connections to the book or theme.  The group discusses these connections and comes to a consensus on the issues or big ideas to explore further.  These are written in the middle of the board for further discussion. 

Discussion Questions: 

  • Within the book, Misty expresses that she was nervous about auditioning for the role of Coppelia, has there ever been a time when you were scared or nervous to try something new?
  • Towards the end of the book, you see all the bunheads gather around and support one another. Tell me about a time when you felt as though you were being a supportive classmate.
  • Have you ever felt a time when your classmates were inspiring you to try harder?
  • If you were to audition for this ballet who would you want to audition for and why?
  • What feelings did this book evoke for you while reading?
  • What do you think about the book’s cover? Do you think it conveys what the book is about?  What would you change about the book cover?
  • Has there ever been a time where you tried something new?
  • Why do you think the instructor introduced Misty to Cat?
  • Have you ever been so excited that you could hardly sleep?  If so when?
  • How did Misty overcome her feeling of being nervous?
  • What do you do when you feel nervous about something?

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I Talk Like a River
Author: Jordan Scott
Illustrator: Sydney Smith
Published by September 1st, 2020 by Neal Porter Books

Summary: What if words got stuck in the back of your mouth whenever you tried to speak? What if they never came out the way you wanted them to? Sometimes it takes a change of perspective to get the words flowing.

I wake up each morning with the sounds of words all around me.

And I can’t say them all . . .

When a boy who stutters feels isolated, alone, and incapable of communicating in the way he’d like, it takes a kindly father and a walk by the river to help him find his voice. Compassionate parents everywhere will instantly recognize a father’s ability to reconnect a child with the world around him.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This book would be good to use in the classroom when talking about overcoming obstacles and accepting who you are. The book also represents a good way to talk about mood.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why did the little boy not want to speak?
  • Why did the author compare a river to his speech?
  • What are similarities between the river and his speech?
  • What helped him overcome his stutter?
  • Why did he like being with his dad?
  • How does the story apply to your life?
  • How does the book help us think differently about fluency?
  • How do you feel connected to the story?
  • What is the theme of this book?
  • How do the illustrations help tell the story?

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I’m Worried
Author: Michael Ian Black
Illustrator: Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Published June 4th, 2019 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: A girl, a flamingo, and a worried potato star in the third book in New York Times bestselling author Michael Ian Black and celebrated illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s series about feelings—and why they’re good, even when they feel bad.

Potato is worried. About everything.

Because anything might happen.

When he tells his friends, he expects them to comfort him by saying that everything will be okay. Except they don’t. Because it might not be, and that’s okay too. Still, there’s one thing they can promise for sure: no matter what happens…they will always be by his side.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: This would be useful in a classroom when a student may be having a bad day. Everyone has bad days and everyone worries about everyday stresses. This book would also be useful on the 1st day of school. “I’m Worried” will bring a sense of community to the students. Everyone is nervous and worried on their first day of school reading this book could be a good source to calm everyone’s nerves.

A freewrite would allow students the ability to apply the book’s message to themselves. It allows them to reflect on the topic of “worry” and understand that worry is something that everyone feels. They then would share with their classmates which would further the idea that everyone feels worried at some point.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did this book help you learn about feelings?
  • What is one thing that you are worried about and why?
  • How do you think the potato felt by the end of the book?
  • Do you think that you live in the now? Why or why not?
  • How would you overcome your anxieties?
  • How would you describe the little girl? How would you describe the potato?
  • What does it mean to be  worried?
  • How can I help you when you are worried?
  • Why are some of the illustrations in green?
  • If you see a friend who is worried, how would you help them?

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Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast
Author: Josh Funk
Illustrator: Brendan Kearney
Published September 1st, 2015 by Sterling

Summary: Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast have a beautiful friendship—until they discover that there’s ONLY ONE DROP of maple syrup left. Off they go, racing past the Orange Juice Fountain, skiing through Sauerkraut Peak, and reeling down the linguini. But who will enjoy the sweet taste of victory? And could working together be better than tearing each other apart?

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast can teach students how to rhyme, help students understand problems and solutions in this story, and help with social-emotional learning looking at the power of words and the impact it has on others.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Is it important to share with your friends?
  • Is it ok to compete with others? Especially your friends?
  • What do you think the meaning of the story is?
  • What do you guys think Baron von Waffle is up to next?
  • What did you like least about this book?
  • Which character can you relate to the most?
  • If you could give this book another name, what would it be?
  • What advice can you give Lady Pancake and Mr. French Toast?
  • Can you describe what the illustration on the front cover is trying to tell us?
  • What did the characters learn at the end?
  • What is your favorite food?

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Educators’ Guide for Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers: A Story Inspired by Loujain Alhathloul by Lina AlHathloul & Uma Mishra-Newbery, Illustrated by Rebecca Green

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Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers
Authors: Lina AlHathloul & Uma Mishra-Newbery
Illustrator: Rebecca Green
Published: February 8, 2022 by Astra Publishing

Summary: A courageous girl follows her dream of learning to fly in this beautifully illustrated story inspired by imprisoned human rights activist Loujain AlHathloul.

Loujain watches her beloved baba attach his feather wings and fly each morning, but her own dreams of flying face a big obstacle: only boys, not girls, are allowed to fly in her country. Yet despite the taunts of her classmates, she is determined that some day, she too will learn to do it–especially because Loujain loves colors, and only by flying will she be able to see the color-filled field of sunflowers her baba has told her about. Eventually, he agrees to teach her, and Loujain’s impossible dream becomes reality–inspiring other girls to dare to learn to fly. Inspired by co-author Lina al-Hathloul’s sister, formerly imprisoned Saudi women’s rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Loujain al-Hathloul, who led the successful campaign to lift Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving. This gorgeously illustrated story is lyrical and moving.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I co-created for Astra Publishing for Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers on Astra Publishing’s page.

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Author Guest Post and Educators’ Guide: I Am Today by Matt Forrest Esenwine, Illustrated by Patricia Pessoa

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“Non-grammatical doesn’t always mean wrong”

The year that shall live in infamy…

School was at home, play dates were via computer, vacation plans were stalled.

The pandemic shut-down was difficult for many people in many ways; however, as hard as it was for as adults to deal with, it was especially hard on kids, many of whom had no idea what was going on, or why. I felt like I needed to write something to empower kids, to help them realize they do have some control over certain things.

So in late summer of last year I began brainstorming ideas by doing something unusual. I made a concerted effort to come up with a non-grammatical title. A strange way to begin the writing process, but I thought a non-grammatical title might not only be poetic and thought-provoking but would certainly catch attention sitting on a bookshelf!

As I thought about it, the phrase “I am today” eventually popped into my head, and I loved it! Kids are always being told they are “the Future” – but what if a child doesn’t want to wait, to make a difference? The concept for my next picture book was born.

Non-grammatical doesn’t always mean “wrong”:

These days, it seems grammar police are everywhere; allow auto-correct to add an apostrophe to the word “its” in your social media post and suddenly a cute little possessive pronoun is the subject of derision and ridicule by everyone who reads it. And let’s not even get started on the “your” and “you’re” brigade!

No one appreciates proper grammar more than me. Certainly, it’s important to teach grammar, spelling, and such. Verb conjugations, parts of speech, sentence diagrams are all important and all have their place in education. But as someone who writes a lot of poetry, I would suggest that going out of one’s way to be non-grammatical on purpose might have some uses – and be quite fun.

You see, a phrase is only non-grammatical when there is no context, or it is used out of context. Take the title of my new picture book, “I Am Today.” How can a person be an adverb?? (Yes, “today” can also be a noun, but we’re not going to split hairs) On its own, the phrase “I am today” would not normally make sense – but once the story is read and we understand what the main character is thinking, it suddenly makes all the sense in the world.

We tell kids “they are the future” – which, to be honest, could be considered just as non-grammatical as “I am the future.” So if we are proud when children consider themselves to be “the future,” it’s not much of a stretch to understand why a child might want to be “today.”

Putting non-grammatical phrases to use…

Now that you (hopefully) understand my rationale for cheering on grammar that would make my high school English teacher Mrs. Jencks scream, here’s what I think is really cool:  getting students to think creatively and/or poetically by deliberately creating non-grammatical phrases!

Think about it:  why can’t phrases like “puddles of books” or “running the rainbow” or “soccer seriously” be legitimate springboards to something fantastic – a story, a poem, a song?

Many of us (your faithful guest poster, included) are always encouraging young people to come up with new ideas for writing, yes? Since essays, stories, homework assignments always need to be correct and proper, why not turn things on their head for a change and give kids a chance to do something totally different?

Encourage students to put together phrases that sound completely wrong, then have them write the story or poem that goes with it. Or better yet, put all their non-grammatical phrases together and draw them randomly so students need to write based on someone else’s phrase.

Phrases like those three I mentioned earlier, while possibly a bit odd-sounding, would all be perfectly at home in a poem. That’s what poets do, after all – coin phrases, turn words around, make unexpected connections.

Poets speak in terms that are new to their readers, using metaphors, similes, and comparisons that are thought-provoking and unforeseen. What better way to get students thinking in this way than by showing them the value of putting words together that everyone normally tells them not to do?

Knowing most middle school and high school students, they’ll seize any opportunity to do something they’re not supposed to do. So capitalize on that – and see what happens!

About the Author from the Author: 

As a former radio broadcaster, I spent a good part of my life writing and producing commercials, comedy bits, and news stories. At various times I was also an event DJ, country dance instructor, news reporter, cook, telemarketer, ice cream scooper, and photography sales dude…and never figured out how to make a living doing any of it.

I also loved poetry – my first published poem was in 1984 when I was still in high school – and over the years I’ve had numerous adult-oriented poems published in various journals and anthologies including the Donald Hall tribute, “Except for Love (Encircle, 2019). In 2012 my poem, “Apple-Stealing” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and in 2019 I was the recipient of the MacGregor Poetry Prize, coordinated by the Robert Frost Farm board of trustees and Derry (NH) Public Library.

Anyhoo…little did I know all this short-form writing would lead to my debut picture book, “Flashlight Night” (Boyds Mills & Kane, 2017), which received numerous positive reviews including a Kirkus star and was selected by the New York Public Library as one of the Best Books for Kids 2017. I now have a dozen books out or under contract, including “Once Upon Another Time” (Beaming Books, 2021), co-authored with my friend, Charles Ghigna (aka, Father Goose®).

Meanwhile, my children’s poetry can be found in anthologies like “The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry” (National Geographic Children’s Books, 2015), “Night Wishes” (Eerdmans, 2020), and “Construction People” (Wordsong, 2020), the latter of which chosen by Kirkus as one of the Best Picture Books of the Year. Take a gander at all my books here.

Matt lives in New Hampshire with his wife, kids, and more pets than he has fingers, so don’t ask him to count.

Expected Publication November 30th, 2021 by POW! Kids Books

About the Book: A young girl realizes that she doesn’t have to wait until she’s grown-up to stand up for what is right and make a big impact.

While playing on the beach in her coastal town, a young girl comes across a sea turtle ensnared by a wire. Her town is home to a factory that has provided jobs for many of her neighbors, including her mother, but it has also been dumping garbage from a pipe into the waters, threatening the creatures that live in them.

Children are used to being asked what they’ll do and be when they grow up, but the girl knows there is so much she can do today to help. Unable to forget the sight of the struggling turtle, with a fantastic act she inspires the townspeople to compel the factory to change its destructive ways.

Written in spare and evocative poetry, I Am Today is an empowering story for children who want to be the change the world needs.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the educators’ guide for I Am Today

Flagged Passages:

Thank you, Matt, for this post to make us, as adults, think a little bit more out of the box!